The northern loggerhead sea turtle is finally getting full protection under the Endangered Species Act. In response to two legal petitions last week, the National Marine Fisheries Service designated the North Pacific loggerhead sea turtle "endangered" under the Act -- upgrading its status from the less-protective classification of "threatened." The rare and ancient marine reptile, which spends much of its time off the coasts of Mexico and California, has declined by at least 80 percent over the past decade due to fisheries by-catch, climate change, oil spills and other threats.
Although loggerheads in the Northwest Atlantic are also seriously at risk and have seen a 40 percent decline in nesting on Florida beaches since 1998, the agency did not list them as it did their North Pacific cousins. Instead, it split loggerheads into nine populations worldwide and protected only five of these. But North Pacific turtles now have a much better shot at recovery: Threats like deadly long-line and gillnet fisheries will be under increased scrutiny, and the Fisheries Service will now have to identify areas to set aside as federally protected "critical habitat" for the turtles.